CHICAGO – At least one Republican lawmaker says he’s filing a protest after an Illinois House committee recorded a 9-0 vote to commit $100 million to bring President Barack Obama’s library to Chicago, even though only five Democrats – and none of the committee’s four GOP members – were there.
Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein said he didn’t attend Thursday’s hearing because a vote was not expected.
He told WBEZ radio and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald he would have voted no because he opposes using public funds for the library, which will house Obama’s presidential records and artifacts.
“The legacy of the Obama presidential library shouldn’t be kicked off in a cloud of controversy,” Sullivan told the Daily Herald after Democrats used a procedural maneuver to record the 9-0 vote.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Rep. Monique Davis, both Chicago Democrats, are sponsoring the measure in an attempt to sweeten Chicago’s bid for the library and museum.
They and other supporters, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said the money would return dividends by attracting tourists and spurring economic development such as hotels and restaurants.
Hawaii, where Obama was born, and New York, where he attended college, also are expected to submit bids by the June 16 deadline.
Thursday’s committee meeting was scheduled as a “subject matter” hearing, meaning legislators hear testimony but a vote is not scheduled. Five Democrats were present, but no Republican members attended.
After testimony from several supporters – and no testimony against the proposal – the committee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Bob Rita of Blue Island asked for a vote based on the roll call of a meeting the previous day. All nine committee members were present for that hearing, which was held to discuss a bill to expand gambling in Illinois.
No one objected to Rita’s request for the 9-0 vote, and the measure was advanced to the House floor.
Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan, said it’s within the committee chairman’s authority to use a previous meeting’s attendance as a vote. He said Democrats weren’t trying to do anything in secret and if it’s a problem, the committee will reconvene and vote again.
But Sullivan said the action sets a bad precedent, and he planned to file a protest. He also wants Madigan to table the measure for now.
Brown said Thursday that lawmakers have yet to determine a funding source for the $100 million in bonds, but that the goal is to approve the measure before the Democrat-controlled Legislature adjourns at the end of May.
The proposal comes as Illinois faces serious financial troubles, including billions in overdue bills, and Gov. Pat Quinn is asking lawmakers to make the state’s temporary income tax increase permanent to avoid “severe” cuts to education and other areas.